Ancient in its origins, Southwestern in style, and uniquely suited to hot and dry climates, the adobe house has truly stood the test of time. With its roots traceable to the Indigenous Pueblo peoples of the American southwest, the adobe house and adobe building method is a sustainable option for those in similar climates.
To help you get a better idea of what an adobe house is made of, what it’s like to live in one, and where you can find these homes – we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know before buying, building, or renting an adobe style house.
What is an adobe house?
Meaning “mud brick” in Spanish, adobe homes are a one-of-a-kind home style largely found across the southwestern United States. They are particularly suited to the dry and harsh climates of states like New Mexico and often associated with the historical architecture of this region.
History of adobe homes
While typically spotted throughout the Southwestern United States, adobe architecture dates back to nearly 8300 BC in the Middle East. Popular in dry and arid regions, ancient builders used mixtures of sand, straw, and clay to create building materials. Adobe was a durable substance and substantially easier to find as many of these regions lacked enough wood to build homes.
Probably the most recognizable adobe structures in the US are located in Taos, NM, at the Taos Pueblo a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark. The traditional adobe houses found across New Mexico are attributed to the Pueblo peoples, which is why you may also hear adobe style houses called “Pueblo homes.”
Most modern style adobe houses are found in New Mexico, in cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The homes in these regions typically have design and building regulations they have to follow to ensure the historic quality of the adobe style. You can also find adobe houses in areas with hot or dry climates like California, Arizona, and Florida.
What are adobe houses made of?
Adobe is essentially a dried mud brick. It’s created by combining earth and organic materials like straw, sand, or grass, with water, resulting in clay or mud. The adobe mud is compressed into bricks and left to dry out in the sun. Once dry, the adobe brick is then used to build the home’s exterior. In traditional homes, you’ll find minimal wood, except for exposed wooden beams in the interior used to help maintain the roof’s structure.
Are adobe houses sustainable?
Adobe homes are suited for hot and desert climates and have unique characteristics that make them sustainable. The thick walls protect the home from the elements such as the extreme weather in the Southwest. For example, the walls absorb heat during the day, keeping the interior cool. At night, the heat releases, warming the interiors when temperatures drop outside. This process helps reduce the need for air conditioning and heating.
Adobe bricks also help reduce energy consumption and waste during the building process. Creating adobe bricks from local and natural materials helps lower costs and emissions related to transporting the building materials.
Characteristics of adobe homes
Adobe style homes have a unique look and build, unlike many other house styles. Here are some of the common characteristics indictive of the adobe style.
Adobe exteriors are characterized by their thick walls, flat roofs with rounded edges, and earthy brownish-red color. Adobe roofs have a unique rounded edge with an extension that allows the roof to collect rainwater. There may be a rooftop garden, an outdoor space, and large front porches perfect for enjoying the cool nights.
While there’s minimal wood used in building adobe houses, you’ll see exposed wood beams supporting the ceiling in the home’s interior. There’s usually a fireplace shaped like a beehive, set in the corner of the main living space. Keeping in line with the exterior’s sustainability, the interior also features tile or concrete flooring which helps keep the home cool on hot days.
Many homes are one-to-two stories and lack a basement. The second floor is typically accessible towards the back of the main floor. Some layouts may be oriented around a courtyard in the middle of the house. The windows are typically small and square, deeply set into the walls. You may also find built-in wall benches and wall niches.
Styles of adobe homes
There aren’t many variations on the traditional adobe house. While there are many homes that may look similar, there’s only one offshoot of the style. Let’s take a look at that modern take on an adobe house.
Pueblo Revival or Santa Fe style
The Pueblo Revival (or Santa Fe style) home, while in the spirit of the traditional New Mexico style adobe home, isn’t made from the same materials. They’re constructed out of timber frames and their exterior walls are finished to have that adobe clay look. In reality, the exterior walls are made with stucco mimicking traditional adobe walls. The flat roofs often still have a rounded edge but are made with more modern materials, rather than eco-friendly adobe mud.
Pros and cons of an adobe house
Unique as they are, adobe homes have their own unique set of pros and cons. Here are some of the main advantages and disadvantages of owning an adobe house.
Pros of an adobe house
Climate-friendly: For those in high fire risk areas, adobe houses can be particularly beneficial as they are more fire-resistant. Additionally, they incorporate many elements of sustainable architecture. Adobe homes help reduce energy consumption during the building process and while living there.
Durability: In addition to their climate-friendly construction, adobe bricks are relatively durable materials, meaning these homes can last a long time. The oldest adobe home in the US dates back to 1646, so if adobe brick is constructed properly and well-maintained these homes can last for years to come.
Cons of an adobe house
Don’t work in cold climates: The adobe structure is not particularly suited for colder climates. Adobe walls don’t insulate the homes as well compared to hot climates.
Harder to find: Adobe houses are concentrated in areas like New Mexico, Arizona, California, Texas, and sometimes Florida. If you’re living in San Antonio, TX, or in a region of Nevada or Colorado with a similar climate, finding an adobe house for sale may be harder to find, but not impossible.
How to find adobe homes
If a sustainable adobe house is the home you’re ready to buy, Redfin can help you find one in your area.
2. Near the top of the next page, on the right side, you will see “All filters.” Click on that and scroll to the “Keywords” box near the bottom of the page.
3. Type the word “Adobe” into the Keywords box and press Apply Filters. That’s all. All adobe style homes within the city name or zip code you entered will populate the page, and you’ll be able to begin your search.